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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lives/Loves Of Precode Working Women


Life Lessons From 30's Perspective: Beauty For Sale (1933)

Just found the skeleton key to innumerable MGM late silent-early talk doors: have three girls, one sensible, one comic, the last misguided. Mix appropriately with men of honorable or otherwise intent, and let chips fall where they may, but always according to set formula, within ninety-or-so comfortably passed minutes. None of foregoing is meant to belittle Beauty For Sale or ones like it: I could watch pallet-loads and seek more, having done so at TCM and Warner Archive sales counter. Working femmes were tempted always by the "easiest way" to comfort. Giving in to an Adolphe Menjou or Bob Montgomery seemed a reasonable option, but "sensible" girl always held out for marriage, and so long as she was the lead (always), you knew Adolphe/Bob would succumb to wedding peals. In Beauty's case, it's Otto Kruger in adulterous pursuit of Madge Evans, a hair salon drudge, thus the title, though one could attach a saucy double-meaning.


Was beauty compromised by the Depression really for sale? Guys with a little green in their poke hoped so. Hollywood was realistic enough to realize some girls give in: they sure did in that town, after all, and precode freedom gave license to show life at least somewhat as it was. To depict a feminine trio offered aerial view of the moral landscape. Whose example would patronage follow? The easy answer was Madge, what with partners Una Merkel (silly, but wise in her way, bedding down with Charley Grapewin a harsh price to pay for wealth/position) and dewy but doomed Florine McKinney, who seeks solace of a fifth floor jump after father-of-her-illigit-child Philips Holmes skips. Girls too accommodating, especially in MGM pix, often took window exit, death a price for promiscuity (even unto the 60's and Yvette Mimieux's fate in also-Metro Where The Boys Are). Beauty For Sale was based on a Faith Baldwin novel. Call my cultivation lacking, but her stuff always bell-rings for Greenbriar. Authors like Baldwin, forgotten now, frankly adapt better to movies than famed names, she having laid literary ground for Week-End Marriage and Skyscraper Souls among pre-codes, then Wife vs. Secretary later on.

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